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ax

Lu Xun on Characters

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ax

I've just read this psssage, I think luxun remark is very 一針見血

http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/chinese_writing_reform.html

The most devastating indictment of all concerning the characters is attributed to Lu Xun 魯迅, the most famous and revered Chinese author of the twentieth century, when he lamented, in the summer of 1936, "If the sinographs are not destroyed, China will certainly perish!" (Hànzì bù miè, Zhōngguó bì wáng!) 漢字不滅,中國必亡 ! In his long series of articles entitled Menwai wen tan (An Outsider's Chats about Script) the renowned author thoroughly debunked the hallowed Chinese script from every possible angle.

ax

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skylee

Oh I dread such topics.

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roddy
Oh I dread such topics

It's alright, I've already got my moderating hat stick on.

Ax originally posted this in the old phonetic / character topic, but I moved it into it's own as that topic had been dead for a while, and I thought it was interesting enough - I knew Lu Xun had advocated Baihua (thankyou, thankyou) but didn't realise he'd also been so strongly in favour of a phonetic writing system.

Roddy

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ax

I know phoneticization could help China as accorded in the above links. Those wizards in ancient China have foreseen that, does it need us layman to confirm that? But I'm personally in favor of character now and that's my position. Why? I think I'm addicted to characters, I find it fun and addictive, the more I learn the more I indulge in it.

Damn, Chinese characters are addictive. Beware!

ax

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trooper

It would be a very sad day when Chinese characters are no longer in use. But leaving aside sentiment and tradition, important though they are, the characters are a huge barrier to Chinese becoming a world language, i.e. used by many non-Chinese people.

The needs of modern life would be much better served by a non-hanzi phonetic script. I say that reluctantly as another person addicted to Chinese characters.

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Quest

Why must Chinese become a world language? It suits where it belongs -- China. How does hanzi script affect the modern life in japan, hongkong or taiwan?

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Ian_Lee

First of all, Lu Xun belonged to the more radical group of post-May Fourth movement writers. Fortunately he died inside the Leased Territory in Shanghai in early 1930s, otherwise he would definitely be purged by Mao either during the "Hundred Flowers Bloom" campaign of 1957 or the Cultural Revolution in 1960s.

In fact, the most vehement attacker (in press) on Lu was not from the right but from the left like Pro-Yenan writer Zhou Yang.

Regarding complete romanticization of Chinese language and the do-away of Chinese characters, many regimes have tried it before.

One early objective of PRC's language reform program was to achieve complete romanticization. Simplification was just a temporary and interim measure.

But what about now?

Romanticization has been completely abandoned. Further simplification has been grounded to a halt. In many cities, traditional scripts have stage a comeback. Jiang Zemin had to order to upkeep the simplified script.

In Japan, even before and during Meiji Restoration, there had been proposals to do away completely with Chinese characters.

But now it is still under wide use!

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Ian_Lee

In dynastic China, the Chinese characters were essential to China's survival.

Why?

Just look at the difference between the Roman Empire and Han Empire which existed at roughly the same time.

Once the Roman Empire collapsed, it disintegrated and fragmented into many small kingdoms. Never has it reunited again. (OKay EU may be the first step towards that only but it only happened after two devastating world wars that ignited in Europe.)

When an Empire was in demise, inhabitants in each area developed their own culture based on their own language and later their own national identity which was quite a natural process.

But Han Dynasty, which collapsed roughly at the same time as the Roman Empire did, finally reunited under Sui after 400+ years.

Why China could but Europe could not?

Probably because there existed an uniform written script in the former but not in the latter.

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roddy
Why must Chinese become a world language?

It doesn't have to - but surely it would only be of benefit to China if Chinese became more widely understood.

Fortunately he died inside the Leased Territory in Shanghai in early 1930s, otherwise he would definitely be purged by Mao either during the "Hundred Flowers Bloom" campaign of 1957 or the Cultural Revolution in 1960s.

Fortunately for who? I'd have taken my chances . . .

As for the historical importance of Chinese characters in uniting China, I'd love to see more detail on this.

My point of view now is that Chinese characters are here to stay. However, considering the already massive pressures on the Chinese education system to get as many people educated to as high a level as possible, with limited resources, I can help but think a phonetic system would be of advantage - cut down the amount of time spent filling in 田字本 and use it on something else.

That's obviously only one part of the issue - you would have to have a long, complicated changeover period of using a phonetic system alongside characters, publishing everything in two formats, and who know what else. It simply won't happen.

Perhaps you could say the window of opportunity has passed - back in Lu Xun's day when illiteracy was more of a problem, printed material less common, the benefits would have been greater and easier to exploit?

Just what I think, I'm sure I'll get my ideas dissected very soon.

I'll preempt a couple of arguments this discussions always bring up

1) It'll destroy a huge part of Chinese culture.

No, but it will move it from the classroom and the office to universities and libraries - it's still there for people who want to study it.

2) There are too many . . ., oh what's the word . . . words or characters that sound the same. Like 吗 and 骂. So a phonetic system won't work.

I can't agree with this one either. The Chinese language already has a fantastic phonetic system - it's called speech. All a phonetic writing system would do is represent speech on the written page / computer screen. Anything that can be made clear in speech could be made clear in writing.

Certain formal styles of writing may need to change - but they should maybe be doing that anyway, to become more accessible - Look at the Clear English Campaign in the UK for example.

Ah well, that's my 2 fen's worth for now. Now, who can tell me where I'm wrong? Form an orderly queue . . .

Roddy

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Ian_Lee

Roddy:

Lu Xun was lucky to have died in 1936 of siockness (I recall that was the year).

Just imagine:

If Lu died a couple years after the outbreak of Sino-Japanese war in 1937, where could he go?

(1) If he still stayed in the leased territory at Shanghai, he would definitely be lured by the puppet government in Nanking headed by Wang Ching Wei after 1941 when Japan took over the territory.

If Lu didn't oblige (most likely), he would probably be tortured by Wang's agents.

If Lu obliged, he would become a traitor. That exactly happened to his brother -- Mr. Chou Tso-Yan -- another famous writer at that time. (Lu's original last name was Chou/Zhou.)

(2) If Lu fled to Chungking, I don't think the narrow-minded Chiang would treat him nice albeit he dared not kill him

(3) If Lu fled to Yenan, his residual fantasy about CCP would vanish right after he realized all those he hated were prevalent in the revolutionary base (i.e. the special privileges enjoyed by the ruling comrades). And most likely he didn't have the freedom of writing.

Now Lu died at the right moment. CCP could use him as an icon. But just think of it -- the backwardness, ignorance, superstition....etc that Lu hated about as written in his articles/novels were still common in China nowadays!

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Ian_Lee

Introduction of phonetic system cannot bring more people to higher education in China.

In the '60s, Hong Kong and Taipei were at about the same GDP level of present day Shanghai and Beijing.

But did the governments in HK and Taiwan need to introduce phonetic system to bring more people to higher education?

NO. Both places even adopted the traditional script in instruction and daily use.

But both places experienced astronomical economic growth in the following decades with a high ratio of higher education attendance.

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smithsgj

HK teachers comment that HK students can't write properly in any language. Chinese or English. I'm not making this up, I've heard teachers say it (though I don't have personal experience)

Taiwan. Fantastic growth. Technological explosion. More keyboards and mice manufactured per person than anywhere else. Virtually 100% of kids go to some sort of university.

No national infrastructure (except for early contribution of Japanese). Short courses of antibiotics prescribed routinely by doctors for colds. Motorbikes drive on the pavements, so people walk in the street. Motorists spend lunchbreaks in airconditioned stationary cars. Used toilet paper thrown in open bins instead of being flushed away. Tap water is not potable. Children encouraged to piss in the street. People only started washing their hands after usning the toilet in response to SARS. Parents carry toddlers and babies on motorbikes without any head protection. No road courtesy. No-one slows down or moves out of the way for ambulances and fire engines.

Civic pride, awareness of needs of others, understanding of basic health and hygiene measures are totally absent. If a little more time was spent in schools on helping kids to be good citizens, a little less might have to be devoted to character drilling and learning how to do quick mental arithmetic that you could use a calculator for anyway. And military square-bashing (you think I'm joking, but in secondary school this is something you have to do).

If that happened, perhaps Taiwan would be a nice place to live in a few generations. A high GDP is not enough to ensure quality of life, but a decent education would probably help.

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roddy
But did the governments in HK and Taiwan need to introduce phonetic system to bring more people to higher education?

No, I'm guessing they invested lots of money in education at all levels.

I'm not saying a phonetic system automatically equals a better education system - but as smith大人 points out above (sounds like you need a holiday, by the way) , it would free valuable time for other subjects - all the more valuable when your education system is already struggling to cope.

Roddy

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skylee

Ian, I disagree with the abolishment or romanization of Chinese characters. But economic success (HK and Taiwan) was not necessarily because of higher education/cultural level (legal framework, tax policy, relative stability, hardworking low-income people could all be the causes). And also bear in mind that the two places are relatively small compared to the mainland, which means, I guess, simplifying the characters was at one time a good way to improve literacy in the mainland.

I don't know about Taiwan, but in HK "high ratio of higher education attendance" in fact means deterioration of the quality of Univ students.

Smith, many HK teachers themselves can't write properly in any languages. And since when have you become Smith大人?

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smithsgj

> And since when have you become Smith大人

not my idea! though funnily enough i was on the phone to my mum last night and apparently my phd certificate thingy has just come in the post. so it's smith博士 to you lot from now on thank you very much!

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Quest
HK teachers comment that HK students can't write properly in any language. Chinese or English. I'm not making this up, I've heard teachers say it (though I don't have personal experience)

That's because they speak in Cantonese, write in Mandarin, learn in English.

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Quest
If that happened, perhaps Taiwan would be a nice place to live in a few generations. A high GDP is not enough to ensure quality of life, but a decent education would probably help.

Wealth came relatively recent to both Taiwan and Hongkong, for it to change social behaviors I believe we still need more time. However, in every new generation we see more and more mannered people. Characters have nothing to do with the low standard of social behaviors. The newly rich would probably behave just as he did when he was poor.

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smithsgj

> That's because they speak in Cantonese, write in Mandarin, learn in English.

Whatever the reason, a city-state whose teachers can't write? Sounds like a systemic problem, and hardly cause to get excited about the territory's achievements in education.

In fact, what you stated can be used as an argument for abolishing characters. Why? Well, one of the arguments often cited *for* characters is that it somehow makes the Chinese one big brotherhood that can magically communicate in writing even though their regionalects are not mutually intelligible. But if Cantonese speakers can in fact *not* write Mandarin (which is what written Chinese is, as you correctly state), that argument rather flops.

> Characters have nothing to do with the low standard of social behaviors

Obviously not, not directly! But in the UK most kids have pretty much learnt to read and write by the time Taiwanese kids actually start primary school (although of course we're all still learning, even into adulthood). And as Roddy said, freeing up dead character-learning space on the curriculum would give more time for real education: class discussions, talking about feelings and relationships, thinking about society and one's place in it. Expressing oneself creatively, through writing, discussion, painting or just making a mess. Listening to a story, or making one up. What's in the news, if there's a god, why there's pollution, what things float and where babies come from.

I think Taiwanese kids are basically not trained in how the world around them works, and how for it to work depends on everyone being nice to people.

To its credit, the nursery 大人 Jr goes to tries to cover a lot of this stuff (though they draw the line at getting wet/messy). But if we're still here when it's time for 國小, it'll be head down and learn those characters boy, of this I'm certain.

I'll look into that holiday.

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Ian_Lee

May I remind fellow posters that we are talking on the hypothesis that phoneticization will free more resources to churn out more graduates of higher education.

I do not imply that those higher graduates will be of higher calibre.

Neither do I infer that phoneticization will lead to better civic-mindness.

As Smith said, many Taiwanese are not civic-minded and infrastructure is sloppy. No doubt about it if anyone has stepped on the island.

But per such logic, Mainland has at least advanced on the path of phoneticiation by hanyu pinyin and script simplification. Soi they must be more civic-minded since the teachers can free up the time and resources to teach their students to be a better citizen.

But in reality, who is more likely to spit on the street and/or cut a queue?

People from Mainland or Taiwan?

As Skylee said, HK students are worse academically. But the problem has to be more related to the system failure of primary and secondary school system than the teaching of Chinese characters. If Chinese characters are the cause, why were the students churned out from the system decades ago who also studied Chinese characters could fare better?

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